Offseason Roundup: Athletics

A look at the Oakland Athletics’ off-season moves.

Under general manager Billy Beane, the A’s have had an interesting odyssey this last decade. When they first won the AL in 2000, they were 3rd in runs scored, and 3rd in runs allowed. By 2003, they 9th in runs scored and 2nd in runs allowed. That was their last postseason appearance until 2006, during which time the team has been substantially rebuilt. This past year they were 9th in runs scored and 3rd in runs allowed. But rather than doing it with the acclaimed “big three” pitchers of Hudson, Mulder and Zito, the statistical wisdom is that in 2006 they did it with stellar defense behind merely decent pitching.

The A’s are a strangely built team, with very few bad players but also very few great players. Even their marquee pitcher Barry Zito seems to be built for the long haul, but in any given game he can be very erratic, as he strikes out a lot of guys but also walks a lot of guys, and consequently throws a lot of pitches, which can lead to short exits. Meanwhile the offense this year consisted of a bunch of solid contributors and Frank Thomas.

Here’s how their off-season is shaping up:


  • Ken Macha, manager (fired)
  • Barry Zito, SP (free agent, unsigned but probably not coming back)
  • Frank Thomas, DH (free agent, to the Blue Jays)
  • Jay Payton, OF (free agent, to the Orioles)
  • D’Angelo Jimenez, 2B (released)
  • Scott Sauerbeck, RP (released)


  • Bob Geren, manager
  • Mike Piazza, C/DH (free agent, 1 year, $8.5M, from the Padres)
  • Erubiel Durazo, DH (free agent, minor league contract)
  • Alan Embree, RP (free agent, 2 years, $5.5M)

(Full free agent data can be found here, and recent A’s transactions here.)

Macha was fired more for political reasons (reportedly he and Beane didn’t get along so well), and Geren’s skills are not known. However, Beane tends to hire managers who will follow his plan and they tend to be relatively faceless characters who push the right buttons and don’t overwork the pitchers. Geren is likely cut from the same cloth.

The big losses are of course Zito and Thomas. Zito is a genuinely good pitcher, and while he has the limitations I mentioned, he’s not going to be easy to replace. Thomas was lightning in a bottle, signed to a one-year deal after a few disappointing years, and the only all-around great hitter in the lineup (Mark Swisher is a good hitter, but until he can consistently bat in the 275-or-better range he’s not going to be a great one), but Toronto plucked Thomas out from the A’s nest.

Thomas will be replaced by Mike Piazza, who had a fine year for the Padres, but isn’t a great bet to repeat it. More likely his 2007 will look a lot like Swisher’s 2006. So he’ll have value, but he won’t truly replace Thomas.

The A’s are well-known competing on a “small market” payroll, but because of that they’re unlikely to bring in any additional impact free agents to replace Zito. The A’s real problem is the lack of impact players: Eric Chavez has never really developed into the star he’d looked like in his youth, and Bobby Crosby is both injury-prone and has not been able to sustain a high batting average (with essentially two full seasons under his belt, he’s a 244 hitter). Swisher, as I said, needs to boost his average to become a star. The rest of the line-up are unlikely to get any better, and some might get worse.

On the pitching side, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton are decent enough pitchers, but have not turned into stars. Haren might yet break through, but Blanton looks doubtful. Esteban Loaiza is another solid contributor. Rich Harden has ace potential, but he’s been through such a morass of injuries lately that it’s hard to know what to expect from him.

The A’s went 93-69 in 2006, winning the AL West by 4 games over Anaheim, but beating their third-order wins projection by about 11 games. That probably means that they got pretty lucky in 2006, and a regression in 2007 is in order. My guess is that they’ll just clear the .500 mark next year, and will be beaten by the Angels and maybe even the Rangers in a fairly weak division.

That said, one thing I haven’t mentioned is Beane’s ability to get good value in trade, and I wouldn’t put it past him to trade for an impact bat or an overlooked but exciting young pitcher. I’m not sure who he’d trade (Loaiza? Bradley? Chavez?), but Beane is one of the craftier GMs in baseball, and he’s certainly got the skills to be able to radically improve the team with a single stroke. So unlike the Giants, who I think have almost no hope for 2007, we won’t truly know where the A’s stand until opening day.

Map of the Internet

Here’s a very cool “map” of the IP address space circa 2006 in the web comic xkcd.

What surprises me about the map is how much unused space there is. Had you asked me before I saw this map, I would have said I thought the IP address space was nearly filled up.

Here’s why:

IP addresses are 32 bits long, which means there are about 4 billion possible IP addresses. That works out to less than 1 address per living human. Okay, so not everyone is going to have a computer on the Internet – certainly most people in third world countries won’t – but that still works out to about 13 computers per US citizen. Certainly every US citizen isn’t going to have 13 computers, but many people will have 2 – or more – 1 at home and 1 at work. And companies have lots of computers acting as servers, and universities have lots of computers sitting in labs for general use. And on top of that, I knew that top-level slices – 1/256th of the IP space (each with about 15 million addresses) – had been allocated to companies, such as Apple, and therefore that a large slice of the space had been allocated but was probably not being used (if you think Apple has 15 million computers in use on its campus, you’ve got another think coming). Among all of this, I would have guessed that we’d use up the IP address space sometime in the next 10 years.

Instead, about 1/4 of the top-level subnets are not allocated at all.

I think I basically grossly overestimated how many computers there are: Probably there’s less than 1 computer in the US per citizen (there were about 190 million in early 2005), and less than that across the rest of the world. And fewer top-level slices had been allocated to companies than I’d thought, so there’s less potentially-allocated-but-unused space. Plus, the use of NAT on local networks means multiple computers can share a single IP address, which I think is a common setup for home networks where all the machines are clients (rather than servers). This is how my home network is set up, for instance.

I still wonder if we’ll run out of IP addresses in my lifetime, though. Especially if we have some sort of nanotech breakthrough where we have large numbers of very small computers which all need their own unique network identifiers. “I’m sorry, the singularity had to be delayed because we ran out of IP addresses.”

For Better or For Worse: House Fire

Lea Hernandez criticizes the comic strip For Better or For Worse‘s current storyline, which involves the house Michael and Deanna are renting having a fire. Hernandez lost her own house in a fire in September, so this hits close to home for her.

When I read the beginning of the FBoFW storyline – before seeing Hernandez’ post – my reaction was “Geez, isn’t this kind of over the top?” FBoFW’s appeal is mainly that it’s a slice-of-life story about its characters, and while there have been a few exceptional events (Michael and Deanna hooking up because she was in a car accident, for instance), I think this story has the potential to go rather too far. Especially since it’s coming on the heels of an extended episode in which Elly’s father Jim had a stroke. It’s one trauma too many.

By the way, the For Better or For Worse web site is, uh, one of the more poorly-designed pro sites I’ve seen lately: Extremely busy design, so much going on it’s very hard to focus on individual items. And it’s all compacted down to a small amount of screen space. It could really use a redesign to make it more spacious and friendlier.

Apparently creator Lynn Johnston has also been writing letters from the characters for a couple of years, I guess to flesh out the story beyond what appears in the strip. Although I enjoy the strip a lot (I own all the collections), that seems excessive to me; I’m only really interested in what actually appears in the strip. Rather than writing all those letters, wouldn’t it have been more fun (for the readers, and lucrative for her) to have spent that time drawing a FBoFW graphic novel or something?

The comments by others in Hernandez’ post are pretty harsh regarding FBoFW, not unjustifiably so. I think it’s still a fun strip, but it loses its way from time to time. I have read (as commented on in the thread) that Johnston plans to end the strip when Michael’s kids are about the same age as Michael and Deanna were when the strip began (probably in about a year), so I guess one could see the next year or so as being Johnson tying up loose ends. That could be a good thing… or a bad thing. (Having dealt with Jim’s stroke, I think it would be a very bad thing if she decides to squeeze his death into the strip’s final days.)

Mostly I wish Johnston would tone down the traumatic episodes and get the strip back to being a fun slice-of-life piece again.